CLEARWATER — When Kristin Chenoweth steps onto the Ruth Eckerd Hall stage Friday, she will feel at home.
Not home in New York, curled up in flannel pajamas with her Maltese watching true crime shows. Home for Chenoweth is center stage, surrounded by light in an otherwise shadowy place.
She's not crazy about flying, being jostled in cramped aisles or sharing space in involuntary ways. For her, the best part of travel is unpacking, then bringing a lifetime of work to a new audience.
"It's my happy place," Chenoweth said in a phone interview. "From 8 to 10 p.m. at night, I can sing the material I love so much." Expect her to mix it up, throwing in some Dolly Parton between Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Schwartz, or torch songs like My Funny Valentine.
You might have seen Chenoweth, 47, on Broadway as Glinda in Wicked or as the unpredictable April Rhodes on Fox's Glee (for which she earned an Emmy nomination) or in any of more than two dozen films, including The Boy Next Door last year with Jennifer Lopez. She is known for her operatic chops, that big voice in that tiny body, but also for her versatility. Her career stands out among Broadway stars for her successful crossover to movies, recording and television.
Her story before Broadway is just as remarkable. Teachers discovered the Broken Arrow, Okla., native early. She won the talent portion of the Miss Oklahoma pageant and used the proceeds to help pay for a master's degree in opera performance from Oklahoma State University. In the mid 1990s she went to New York, auditioned for an off-Broadway part and got it.
A role as Sally Brown in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown won her a Tony, but her career was just beginning. She now lives with a 12-year-old Maltese, Madeline Kahn Chenoweth (named after one of her favorite singers), a lazy-eyed rescue dog.
In a reality show culture, if there is one thing Chenoweth would like young fans to know, it's that success takes more than talent.
"I tell young people all the time, if you want to be famous, don't worry about going to college," Chenoweth said. "Go for it while you're young. If you get a reality show or something like that, save your money. If you want to be a singer or an artist, you immerse yourself in becoming better every single day."
Singers like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson are the rarest of the rare, she said, and even so only make it because they keep working at it.
"The Taylor Swifts of the world, people can be jealous, but I'm sorry, she works her butt off," Chenoweth said.
Chenoweth crossed an item off her bucket list in singing with Placido Domingo, one of her "favorite singers of all time."
"He chooses to live his life with joy," she said of Domingo. "Basically, overall, I am a happy person. I live with joy and so does he."
Choosing joy sometimes comes with a price. A self-described "liberal Christian," Chenoweth's open support of LGBT rights drew the censure from many of Pat Robertson's 700 Club followers, an ordeal she recounted in A Little Bit Wicked, her autobiography. She considers herself a "political swinger," not bound by Republican or Democratic loyalties, only whether candidates pass the "Jesus smell test."
"I am watching the debates," she said, "and paying more attention than I ever have in my life."
Asked what song she might dedicate to this country now, Chenoweth paused.
"I would have to say Smile," she said. "If you read the words, we have a lot of heartbreak in this country and a lot of sadness in this world, and in Paris. I think, however, that we are a country filled with hope."
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.